Louisville-Pittsburgh preview

Greetings from Pittsburgh!

If you pay attention to such things, the point spread for the University of Louisville’s game at Pittsburgh today dropped from 3 points to 1.5 in the last 24 hours — and the game is a pick-em on four Las Vegas web sites. This is highly unusual. Haven’t heard anything about Pittsburgh injuries, but sometimes we don’t until gametime.

With the way Pittsburgh is playing, and as good as they are at home, it’s hard seeing U of L coming into such a tough place to play and pulling off a win. But it has been hard to see that the last two times U of L has come into the Petersen Events Center, and both times they won.

In fact, U of L is the only Big East team to win twice in this building, where the Panthers have lost only nine times in conference play.

And the Cardinals were the last team to win in this building, 75-73, on Feb. 24, 2008. Since then, Pittsburgh has reeled off 30 straight wins.

And lest you think that’s not something the Panthers would think about, those are all noted on the front page of Pittsburgh’s pregame notes package.

So the motivational edge goes to the Panthers. But there’s more to the game than motivation.

Pittsburgh is, in the estimation of many, the most improved team in college basketball from November to now. They lost by 10 to Indiana in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8, but have won seven in a row since, and are coming off three straight ROAD wins over No. 5 Syracuse, Cincinnati and No. 16 Connecticut, perhaps as impressive a road swing as anyone will have in college basketball this season.

And so, this Pitt team that was picked to finish NINTH in the Big East finds itself atop the league standings with U of L entering.

Pitt’s defense ranks first in the Big East in points allowed and is giving up just 26.8 percent shooting from three-point range.

So what does Louisville have to do?

The time has come for the Cardinals to play smart. If you’re not bigger, or stronger, or better shooters than anybody, you’d better execute and play intelligently. That’s exactly how the Cardinals did not play against Villanova. And frankly, there’s no excuse for it. Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith are seniors, and know what it takes to beat these Big East teams, because they’ve been on teams that do it.

The Cardinals simply can’t afford to ignore Samardo Samuels if he’s going to work hard to put himself in scoring position.

And they’re going to have to pick up their perimeter shooting. One key to that will be passing. Pitino said after the Villanova game that his players aren’t making the “hockey” pass. That is, they’re waiting for pressure to reach the ball instead of passing the ball as pressure approaches.

The team for U of L is aggressive offense, and that’ll be a key today against a team that doesn’t generally allow good shooting percentages.

Good news for U of L is that seems to play some of its best games in this building. And it is shooting 5 percentage points better from 3-point range on the road than it is at home.

That could be a big difference.

One last thing. The later it gets into the season, the more freshman Peyton Siva needs to become an important fixture on this basketball team — not just for this season, but for the future. Siva has showed flashes of brilliance and he’s the best player on the team to penetrate and make good things happen. He needs to learn how to stay on the floor — that is, how to avoid getting into foul trouble.

Fans are always clamoring for more Terrence Jennings. I think more of Siva is even more important.

Should be a good one today. You can follow my comments throughout the game on Twitter — just follow me @ericcrawford

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